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Sharp splits emerging among Libya's new leaders

By Ryan Lucas

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Sept. 12 2011 10:47 p.m. MDT

A woman and child walk past the compound of the Libyan embassy in Niamey, Niger, on Monday. A convoy carrying ousted Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's son al-Saadi has crossed into Niger.

Associated Press

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TRIPOLI, Libya — Sharp splits are already emerging in the ranks of Libya's new rulers between Islamic conservatives and more secular figures competing for power even as the leadership begins to settle in Tripoli and start creating a post-Moammar Gadhafi government.

The rising tensions, which have become increasingly public, could jeopardize efforts to rebuild the country and form a cohesive state after six months of civil war.

Each side accuses the other of trying to monopolize a new government. On one side stand more secular technocrats, some of whom have long lived abroad or once had ties with Gadhafi's regime. On the other are conservatives, including the Muslim Brotherhood, who opposed Gadhafi for years on the ground in Libya and suffered during his rule.

"There are fears that these tensions could hamper reconstruction or just cause it all to unravel," said a Western official in Tripoli who deals with members of the leadership of all stripes. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue.

The two sides are wrestling over a fundamental question facing Libya's new leaders since the uprising began in mid-February — how to divvy up the powers of the nation after the downfall of Gadhafi's 42-year rule.

Caught in the middle is Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the head of the National Transitional Council, the closest thing the former rebels have to a functioning government. Abdul-Jalil is the sole figure in the leadership who enjoys almost universal support, earning the deep respect of many Libyans for criticizing Gadhafi's regime even while serving as its justice minister.

"Abdul-Jalil is trying to keep the peace, and it's a struggle between both sides, between the two powerful camps," said one official close to the NTC on condition of anonymity in order to speak freely. "He's trying to maintain a balance between the two camps, and keep the international community happy. It's very difficult."

The disputes for now appear to be primarily over personnel, and not deeply rooted in ideology, although the dividing line is increasingly stark.

The more secular camp is headed by Mahmoud Jibril, the U.S.-educated acting prime minister who has found favor among the revolution's Western backers. But Jibril, like a handful of others falling on this side of the fault line, also served briefly in the Gadhafi regime, and spent much his time during the civil war abroad, trying to drum up international support.

One of the most prominent Islamist figures at the moment is Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, a former fighter in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group — a militant organization that long opposed Gadhafi — and now the commander of the Tripoli military council.

The Islamists, who control the main military force in the capital, the Tripoli Brigade, have tried to ramp up the pressure on Jibril, calling for his resignation.

"We think that Mahmoud Jibril has lost the confidence of people on the ground in Tripoli, in eastern Libya, in Misrata, and in the majority of the western mountains," said Anes Sharif, a spokesman for the Tripoli military council.

"He has been living for the last six months outside the country," Sharif said. "He is appointing people depending on their loyalty to him, not depending on their worth and their activities in the revolution. We think he's a project for a new dictator."

On Friday, Jibril arrived in Tripoli — nearly three weeks after the capital's fall — and in his first public comments took a swipe at groups who he said have already started "the political game" before the rules have been set.

He did not elaborate or name names, but Naji Barakat, the health minister in the Cabinet and a former exile, said the comments were directed chiefly at the Muslim Brotherhood.

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